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Taking Care and Giving Care: a Guide to Emotional Wellness

May 3, 2024

By: Emily DeWalt, Prevention Specialist


When a flight attendant goes over emergency instructions before takeoff, they always tell passengers to put on their own oxygen mask before helping someone with theirs. You may have heard the expression you must first save yourself before you can save others. Not only is this true in a literal sense, but the same idea can also be applied to your emotional wellness.


Emotional wellness encompasses many aspects of our emotions, such as how to manage stress, communicate our feelings, and support others’ in any mood they might be in. Being emotionally well is essential to our mental health, and our mental health is essential to our overall wellness. Understanding what emotional wellness involves, learning ways to show that you care about the emotions of others, and acknowledging May as Mental Health Awareness Month will steer you in the right direction when looking to improve your personal wellbeing.


The status of our emotional wellness affects us in more ways than you might think. Experiencing negative emotions over a long period of time can develop into chronic stress, which we know can wreak havoc on all systems of the body. Not only can negative emotions make it difficult to concentrate at work or maintain healthy relationships, but they can also lead to physical consequences such as hypertension and weakened immunity. On the flipside, a strong sense of emotional wellness can do just the opposite by helping you stay productive, keep strong relationships, lower your blood pressure and strengthen your immune system. Being emotional well is closely tied to being physically well. By practicing the healthy behaviors such as getting good nutrition, regular exercise, maintaining good hygiene and getting adequate sleep, we can better regulate our mood and tackle stressors as they come. Taking care of your physical self makes just as big of an impact on your mind as it does for your body.


So now that we know how to put on our own “mask” (so to speak), how can we help someone put on theirs? Dr. John Delony, a mental health professional that has worked over two decades in crisis response, describes two distinct ways we can provide support in helping someone with their emotional wellness:


1.      Sympathy – showing sympathy means to be aware of and sensitive to the needs of others, “I care about you.” Sympathy is acknowledging someone’s pain without going through the pain yourself.

 

2.      Empathy – showing empathy means to understand and vicariously experience what others are going through, “I’m hurting with you.” Empathy is choosing to feel that pain with them.

 

You may have heard that one of these is better than the other. According to Dr. Delony, expressing empathy or expressing sympathy can both be beneficial, depending on the context. For example, it’s ok to set a boundary and protect your own emotions by showing sympathy, such as honoring the life of someone’s loved one, or feeling sad for those experiencing a natural disaster. Sometimes this is necessary in order to provide support in other ways, such as making plans and setting up logistics where it may be more challenging to do so if you were in a more emotional state. Although showing sympathy has its merits, it does not allow for the same personal connection that can be experienced through empathy.



Sometimes a plan, logistics, and action is not what’s needed in a moment of suffering. By providing a safe space to listen and simply be with someone that’s going through something difficult, you’re allowing yourself to feel what they feel. If your best friend is experiencing a bad breakup, an empathetic response would be to invite them to vent if they would like. You might also offer your own experience with a breakup in order to relate, without making it about yourself. It would be empathetic to just sit with them, and feel the weight of the experience together.

 

For this month of May, we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month to acknowledge the importance of mental and emotional wellbeing to our overall wellness. The organization Mental Health America has made digital toolkits available for individuals and organizations to use to spread this awareness. In these toolkits, you can learn more about how modern life affects mental health and find the resources available to navigate it all. These toolkits also include suggestions on how to build your own “coping toolbox” that can help you manage stress, difficult emotions and challenging situations.

Lastly, the toolkits are available to help you advocate better mental health for you and you’re your community. Check out this sample social media post from the toolkit “things to say when you’re not ‘fine’” and click the link below to access the entire 2024 Mental Health Awareness Month toolkit:







Thanks for stopping by, and we hope you stick around for next week’s blog!


 

 

Sources

1.      Verywell Mind (2021). What is Emotional Wellness? Last viewed May 3, 2024. Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/emotional-wellness-5206535

2.      Ramsey Solutions (2023). Empathy vs. Sympathy: What's the Difference? Last viewed May 3, 2024. Available at: https://www.ramseysolutions.com/personal-growth/empathy-vs-sympathy#:~:text=Empathy%20and%20sympathy%20are%20both,'m%20hurting%20with%20you.%E2%80%9D

3.      Mental Health America (2024). Mental Health Month May 2024. Last viewed May 3, 2024. Available at: https://www.mhanational.org/mental-health-month

 

Images

1.      Brave Acorn Counseling (2015). Airplane oxygen mask analogy for self-care. Last viewed May 3, 2024. Available at: https://braveacorn.com/airplane-oxygen-mask-analogy-for-self-care/

2.      Verywell Family (2021). Hold hands. Last viewed May 3, 2024. Available at: https://www.verywellfamily.com/what-should-i-say-after-the-death-of-a-baby-284514

3.      Mental Health America (2024). Things to say when you’re not “fine.” Last viewed May 3, 2024. Available at: https://mhanational.org/mental-health-month/2024-toolkit-download


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